The Texans plan to draft a quarterback but he may not be the starter on Day One, according to head coach Bill O'Brien. NFL defenses are faster and more complicated than most rookie quarterbacks are used to seeing in college.
"I think that it's very, very difficult to play quarterback as a rookie right away," O'Brien said Tuesday from the NFL owners' meetings. "I think to expect a guy to go in there and play right away against, for instance, a Rex Ryan defense is very difficult. At the same time, you better be ready to do it, because you never know what might happen."
In O'Brien's experience, the gap between a college and pro quarterback is a big one. The expectation level for a NFL-ready quarterback is more than what can be taught within the constraints of a college athlete's average day.
"We ask the quarterback to do a lot of different things pre-snap; direct the protection, direct the running game, get us from a pass to a run or a run to a pass all within the play clock parameters," O'Brien said. "We ask our quarterback to understand defensive alignments, almost like a coach on the field. I think a lot of the college quarterbacks, just because of the time limits, it's not because of the coaching, the coaching is great in college, you can only get the guys for 15 to 20—they say the 20-hour rule but you really don't even have them for 20 hours because, at least at Penn State, those guys went to class all the time. So you can't really teach them everything they need to know about the position."
Last week, the Texans traded Matt Schaub and signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. With three quarterbacks currently on the roster, Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates, and Case Keenum, O'Brien wants each player to earn their starting role.
"They've all been told basically the same thing," O'Brien said. "They're going to be given a chance to compete. We brought Fitzy (Fitzpatrick) in the other day and had a good talk with him. I told him, 'Look, nothing is guaranteed. You're coming in here to compete and try to get better every day and to try to be the starting quarterback.' That's the same thing I told Case. Case played I think eight games last year. T.J. has been the quarterback of this team when they went to a playoff game, so they all have experience. The deal is competition."
O'Brien addressed the media Tuesday morning during the head coaches breakfast at the NFL owners' meetings in Orlando. He discussed instituting the same level of competition at every position. Rookies and veterans alike can earn a starting role but won't automatically be guaranteed of it.
"What we're trying to do in Houston is set up, at every position, a very competitive roster so that through the spring and into training camp at every position—quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line, secondary—we want a very competitive roster and let these guys win their positions on the field," O'Brien said. "That's what we're trying to do and if that means a guy has to play as a rookie, then that's what a guy has got to do."